Kos is one of the most popular islands of the Dodecanese. Geographically speaking it is very close the Asia Minor and therefore a significant commercial and cultural center.
According to Josephus, Kos had a Jewish community as early as the Second Temple. According to ch. Maccabees I (15.23), Jews had been living on the island since 142 B.C. In 49 B.C., under the Roman rule, the residents of the island were ordered by Governor Fanios to respect the decree of the Government and permit the safe passage of Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem.
The visitors to Kos should not miss the view of the port from the Citadel which dominates the area and was built by the Knights of St. John in 1314. It is known that the Knights of Rhodes expelled the Jews for two centuries, but when they were defeated by Sultan Seleiman the Great the Jews returned in 1522. In 1685 a small community which depended on the Chief Rabbi of Rhodes for religious services had settled in Kos.
In 1747 Eliezer Tarsia covered financially for the construction of a small but impressive synagogue that even after his death was preserved with the income from a neighbouring house and two shops he bequeathed. In 1850, 40 families lived in Kos, but were reduced to 25 in 1872. The Jews of Kos exported grapes and raisins and were also involved in metal and clothing trade. In 1901 Kos only had 10 Jewish families who were involved mainly in commerce. The members of the Community lived in harmony and spoke Greek, Turkish and Judeo-Spanish. The Community grew significantly during the Greek-Turkish War between 1918-1922, as refugees came from Asia Minor and particularly from Smyrna.
In 1933 Kos was shook by a very strong earthquake. As a result many human lives were lost. Important monuments, including the synagogue, were ruined. Immediately after the destruction of the old synagogue a new one was built very close to the port. It exists up to this day and is located on 4, Alexandrou Diakou Street. The synagogue served the religious needs of the 140 members of the Jewish Community. When Italy surrendered in 1943, the islands of the Dodecanese were occupied by the Germans. The members of the Jewish Community of Kos were arrested and their properties were seized.
On July 22, 1944, the Jews from Kos and Rhodes were crowed on three cargo ships to the port of Piraeus. Once there, they were forced on trains and were deported to Auschwitz. During the Holocaust, all members of the Jewish Community of Kos perished. Only one person survived the Holocaust and returned to the island.
Today only the Synagogue remains on the island. It is easily recognized due to the Star of David on the gates. It is now used as a Municipal Cultural Center. A small Jewish cemetery where some tombstones date back to the 17th century, can also be found in Kos.
The building of the Synagogue of Kos, now housing
the Cultural Center of the island